Watching Trains

0tracksWell, we didn’t exactly pitch a wang dang doodle (lyrics to the song here), but we did have a pleasant family gathering at my house yesterday to celebrate Father’s Day and our daughter-in-law Sarah’s birthday.  Of course part of the celebration meant playing with our grandchildren.  We took them to the swimming pool, and the play ground, and we let them ride their little electric car and tractor.

But one of the kids most enjoyable pleasures is watching trains.

If you go east about three blocks from my house, the road will dead end before the railrood tracks.  Or, if you look south from my front yard through a clearing in the trees you can see the same track about the same distance as it bends around.

Elijah is three now and Ari is one.  For about a year when Elijah has been at our house every time he hears the train whistle, he will come get me and we will run out to the front porch to watch the train.  Or sometimes, if my pickup truck is parked in the right spot, we can sit on the tailgate and see both spots on the track.

I remember last summer when Elijah screamed, like it was an emergency, “Grandpa!”  and I came running from the other room to take him out to watch the trains.  He is a little more subdued now, but he still likes to watch every one.  A couple weeks ago when he was with us for the weekend, just before time to go home we heard one more whistle.  He looked at me, then thought for a moment and said, “We can just sit here in the living room and listen.”  Then he thought for a second or two more and took my hand and led me back out to the porch to watch.

Now Ari is watching the trains with us too.  If I don’t pick her up and carry her out, it will break her heart.  I can’t hear the trains whistles now without thinking of the kids.

Of course train whistles are famous in country music for having a sad lonesome sound–and sometimes I get a melancholy feeling, wondering if the day will come when the kids will lose their innocence and enthusiasm.  It’s hard to imagine a sullen thirteen-year-old getting excited about a railroad train.  But not all teenagers are sullen all the time; I’ve met a few cheerful confident adolescents.  And most of the others grow out of it.

Then I think of the day in the future, when Elijah and Ari will have children of their own.  Maybe they will come visit me; maybe I’ll be in a wheelchair, but they will push me outside to watch the trains when they hear the whistle.

A Difficult Topic

Imagine a frantic mother being restrained by firefighters in front of a burning house.  We can understand why she want to risk her life to save her child, but we can also understand that if the case is hopeless, at least her life should be spared.

Imagine the same scene with a twist.  The mother realizes the case is hopeless and heartbroken, sits on the ground sobbing.  Now imagine someone trying to force her into the house, risking her life in a vain attempt to save the child.

Americans are deeply divided on abortion.  Depending on how the questions are framed, about half are broadly “pro-choice” and the other half are generally “pro-life.”

The vast majority of those who oppose abortion believe it should be allowed in extreme cases: certainly to save the mother’s life, and nearly all agree it should be allowed in cases of rape or incest.  I say “nearly all,” because I know some argue that even the product of rape has a right to live; but I can’t imagine any state passing a law restricting abortion without provisions for cases of rape or incest.

My internet friend Margaret has sent a link to a thoughtful article in the NY Times by Judith Warner–you should also read the followup comments.  Earlier Margaret sent a link to an article by her writing teacher relating her tragic experience.  Margaret also related her own story in a comment here.

If these stories don’t make you sad enough, Valerie Tarico tells her own tragic story here.  Valerie is a former evangelical Christian who became an atheist.  She is less abrasive and more thoughtful than most of the outspoken atheists today.  I’ve seen firsthand enough of the dark side of evangelical Christianity, although I will probably read her book on the subject.

As I say, I’ve seen enough to be sympathetic to Valerie, but I have also seen enough of the good that people of faith do–and the good that faith does in their life–that I hope I will be a reformer rather than an apostate.

Another Church Shooting

reformation lutheran

An usher was murdered at a Lutheran church in Wichita yesterday.  Back in March, Clint Van Zandt reported,

So far this year, churches in 39 states have reported 141 incidents, including shots fired, robberies, burglaries and bomb threats. Some shooters are liberals, some conservatives, some act under the belief that God ordered them to do so while others do not believe in God or organized religion.  (Newsvine)

Yesterday’s murder was likely perpetrated by someone who believed he was doing God’s will, since the victim was the late-term abortion provider Dr. George Tiller.  As usual, the Phred Felps family, which celebrates all murders, showed up to applaud Tiller’s murder.

Phred Felps himself is a case of how something can start out apparently good and then go awry.  In the 1960’s and ’70s he represented many African Americans in civil rights cases.   He and his daughter claim they systematically took on and dismantled the Jim Crow laws in the state (more here).  Then sometime around 1977, something snapped, and he was eventually disbarred.

I know many people who describe themselves as Pro-Life.   Most are quiet and humble.  A few have participated in quiet demonstrations, but most have never taken part in any form of public protest.  I don’t know any who approve of violence.  Of course, some will brand all who are prolife as dangerous fanatics.  Yesterday’s violence will be more than a setback for the movement.  I suspect it will quietly fade away, at least as far as being any kind of public political movement.

Maybe some will continue to work to reduce the number of crisis pregnancies and to support women who are pregnant in difficult circumstances.

steve green

The following may not seem related, but to me it is.  Last week a jury in Kentucky spared the life of Steven Green, who had been convicted of murder and rape in Iraq.  You could not imagine a more horrendous crime than the one planned and committed by Green.  If any crime ever deserved death, it was his.  Yet, the jury chose to deal a measure of mercy, giving him life without parole.

This leads me to a simple conclusion: It is time to abolish the death penalty in America.  Capital punishment might  be a deterrent where it is swift and sure, but in our system it will always be rare and agonizingly slow.  It can never be applied consistently, and so it can never be fair.

The Kentucky jury’s failure to choose execution for Green is an insult to the people of Iraq.  Than can see it only as an indication that American’s regard their lives as less valuable than the lives of others.  If capital punishment had never been an option, at least they would have had the consolation that we had given the harshest penalty possible to the perpetrator of this monstrous crime.

My further conclusion is that the only way to be pro-life is to be consistently nonviolent, and to work consistently for peaceful solutions to problems, however difficult the problems may be.